South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday lauded his home state’s plan to reopen its economy during the coronavirus pandemic — but chided neighboring Georgia for “going too fast too soon.”
“I support what South Carolina Governor @henrymcmaster announced yesterday — a small reopening of our state’s economy with a focus on social distancing. I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon,” the Republican lawmaker tweeted.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans Monday to restart the state’s economy before the end of the week, saying many businesses that closed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus could reopen as early as Friday.
Georgia’s timetable, one of the most aggressive in the nation, would allow gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors to reopen as long as owners follow strict social-distancing and hygiene requirements. Elective medical procedures would also resume.
By Monday, movie theaters may resume selling tickets, and restaurants limited to takeout orders could return to limited dine-in service.
Such a swift reopening not only alarms Graham, it also runs counter to the advice of many experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top authority on infectious diseases, who warned again Monday that resuming business too soon risked a fresh spike in infections.
Georgia health officials announced Tuesday that 799 have died as a result of COVID-19, with an additional 25 deaths reported since Monday night, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. Another 19,881 people had been confirmed to have the disease.
Kemp asserted that his decision was not influenced by politics, though only Republican officials were with him as he made the announcement.
“I can tell you, I don’t give a damn about politics right now. We’re talking about somebody who has put their whole life into building a business, that has people that they love and work with every single day – working in many of these places,” Kemp said.
But Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told ABC News she and other Democratic mayors were blindsided by Kemp’s move, the AJC reported.
Georgia Gov. Brian KempAP
“It appears that the governor’s orders supersedes anything that I can do as mayor, but I certainly still have my voice that I can use. And what I’ll continue to ask Atlantans to do is to please stay at home,” she said.
“I’m not sure what data the governor is referencing in helping him make this decision. I’ve not spoken with him. I’ve talked with the mayor of the second-most popular city in Georgia, Mayor [Hardie] Davis in Augusta. He’s not spoken with him. So we don’t know what the governor is looking at.”
But Kemp said Monday it was important to allow businesses that had been shut down a chance to get some revenue flowing.
“I think this is the right approach at the right time,” Kemp said.
“We’re not just throwing the keys back to these business owners. We’re talking about people (who had) the government shut down their business.”
But critics persisted.
“Reopen? Dangerously incompetent” is how Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly lost the 2018 governor’s race to Kemp, characterized the action on Twitter.
Kemp acknowledged Georgia has lagged when it comes to COVID-19 testing and announced new initiatives to ramp it up.
The state had administered more than 84,000 tests though Monday, but its per-capita testing rate is in the bottom 10 of states and lower than neighbors Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
South Carolina’s governor, meanwhile, is rolling out details of a program that his office says will allow the state’s economy to “recover more quickly than any other state’s in the country” from the outbreak.
Gov. Henry McMaster on Monday announced the details of “Accelerate South Carolina,” which includes several key leaders in the state including mayors, presidents of institutions of higher learning, business owners and health care professionals.
The group is headed up by James Burns, an attorney and former Defense Department deputy legal counsel who also served as chief of staff to former Gov. Nikki Haley.
Its first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, with plans to hold multiple sessions over the next 30 days.
McMaster has repeatedly stressed his desire for a swift, yet safe, reopening of the state’s economy, noting the severe toll the outbreak has had on individual workers and businesses.
Establishments including restaurants, bars, manufacturers, dentist offices and a number of others have closed for a variety of reasons, including mandatory orders from McMaster issued in an effort to stem the outbreak.
“To do so too quickly would be reckless,” the governor said last week, of resuming normal activity levels, noting several times he felt sure the economy would be “humming” by the end of June.
South Carolina has at least 4,439 confirmed cases, and 124 known deaths.